Weaving business and people together

Is this your wheelbarrow Rene?

August 4th, 2015


© Bong Tongol

Imagine going to the zoo and seeing lions forced to sit in the same confined, indoor space for hours, staring at small screens, breaking only to join other lions in crowded small rooms to stare at numbers and account for their behaviour. We’d be utterly outraged. However, I have a very vivid memory of visiting a newly-built corporate city just outside Edinburgh airport. The building had a huge amount of glass and through the windows you could see ranks of people in rows: battery hens in suits. As a nod to health there was a gym on site, where once again, through the glass, you could see people in rows, doing their stoutness exercises. It made me feel quite ill and very sad. It also caused me to reflect on what we value and what we think is worth talking about at work.

In the Western world of work, we easily fall into believing that thought matters more than feelings. One negative consequence is that we can become increasingly ‘disembodied’ and forget the wisdom of our bodies and physiology. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that our bodies remember as much as our brains do, and will drive our reactions and behaviour, but somehow this isn’t recognised, particularly in work life. Thoughts can be recorded and evidenced and ordered logically in a way that sensations can’t, and so can assume more prominence in important decisions. I like to blame Descartes, who wrote so brilliantly about the notion of mind-body dualism and the track of ‘I think, therefore I am’. Not ‘I feel, therefore I am’. For Descartes, thinking was the most essential human quality, and you can see his fingerprints everywhere.

Both inside and outside of work, I have many clients and friends who put off significant decisions because they haven’t q u i t e managed to ‘think’ their way through it. Meanwhile, their bodies are screaming answers at them. Their stomach pains, aching backs, tense shoulders, the mild symptoms of anxiety, the nausea are somehow a completely separate world of things to address, disconnected from their problem. They carry on a life not quite happy enough and hoping that somehow their brilliant thinking will get them somewhere.

An HR director at a pharmaceuticals company, talking about his company of brilliant scientists and their development needs once said to me ‘People around here think their bodies are wheelbarrows for their heads’. What he said has stuck in my mind because it speaks volumes about all the things I’m talking about here. About education and the endless over-focus on knowing and knowledge and about the normality of the expectation that people will spend so many hours at work or school in situations that are totally inhumane.

So a question for you: are you treating your body like a wheelbarrow? Or can you listen to it a bit and re-learn to trust what it is trying to tell  you?

  1. Great post Anne, and I love the phrase body as a ‘wheelbarrow for their heads’.

    We are our bodies, thoughts and feelings. Neglect to any one knocks onto the others!

    by: Andy on August 4, 2015 at 5:29 pm
    • thanks Andy..it;s all connected isn’t it.

      by: Anne Owen on September 9, 2015 at 9:16 pm
  2. Brilliant article, I have recently stepped out of a FTSE 100 corporate role – where it appears so hard to stop, reflect and truly listen to your own body…. I now listen hard and try to learn attentively through yoga, walking in the rain, breathing techniques as well as coaching others, I love the new lease of life and extra energy.

    by: Jenni Hardy on August 5, 2015 at 12:43 am
    • you sound so well Jenni,,,great to hear of your fresh start.:)

      by: Anne Owen on September 9, 2015 at 9:13 pm
  3. Great analogy. Very apposite for many business clients- and people/me generally! Has made me very ‘thoughtful’!

    by: Mary on August 6, 2015 at 1:03 pm
    • thanks Mary….

      by: Anne Owen on September 9, 2015 at 9:12 pm
  4. I am a wheelbarrow…I have often thought that the phrase “comes to your senses” was not really about logic but about feelings…but I continue to fill my wheelbarrow with activities and thoughts.

    by: Gale Halsey on August 16, 2015 at 11:35 pm
    • it:s such a challenge in such a busy busy context. You”re not alone in your struggle, i often wheelbarrow along too. thanks Gale.

      by: Anne Owen on September 9, 2015 at 9:15 pm


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